Friday, October 24, 2008

Religious Revivals: The First Great Awakening

The first Great Awakening was a religious revival that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s. It was part of a much larger movement that took place in Europe at the same time, primarily in England, Scotland, and Germany.

Signs of revival first appeared in Pennsylvania and New Jersey among the Presbyterians, under the preaching of William Tennent, a Scots-Irish immigrant, and his four clergy sons. It soon spread to the New England Congregationalists (Puritans) and Baptists. By the 1740s, the revival was sweeping through the entire region, fueled by emotional sermons like Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which described the sinner like a loathsome spider who hung suspended by a thread over a pit of boiling brimstone.

One of the most effective and widely known preachers of the time was George Whitefield, who had allied with John and Charles Wesley to lead a reform movement within the Church of England that eventually became the Methodist Church. Beginning in 1739, Whitefield traveled to the colonies to preach several times, often attracting audiences so large he had to preach outdoors.

The success of these emotional sermons aroused opposition from both conservative and moderate clergy, who charged that the revivals disrupted church and community life. They especially opposed the itinerant preachers who traveled from one community to another to hold revival services because they often criticized the local clergy. The fact that not only women, but also African Americans spoke at these meetings especially outraged the opposition. Congregations and entire denominations split over the revivalists’ challenge to clerical authority and over the evangelical call for conversion from the heart rather than from the head.

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Coming up: How the First Great Awakening Influenced the American Revolution

Monday, October 13, 2008

America's First War on Terror: Muslims in Government

Between 1787 and 1790, while the Constitution was being written, and then ratified, attacks by Muslim terrorists against America were already longstanding. Citizens of the new nation were understandably concerned about the possibility that Muslims might be elected to federal office under their new Constitution. This concern originated from Article VI of the Constitution, which states that Senators and Representatives are “bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Specifically raised was the question of whether the prohibition of a religious test meant that Muslims could be elected to federal office. The writers and ratifiers of the Constitution made it clear that could only happen if it was the will of the people of a district. In the North Carolina ratifying convention, Governor Samuel Johnston explained that “if the people of America lay aside the Christian religion altogether, it may happen. Should this unfortunately take place, the people will choose such men as think as they do themselves. Another case is if any persons of such descriptions should, notwithstanding their religion, acquire the confidence and esteem of the people of America by their good conduct and practice of virtue, they may be chosen.”

Supreme Court Justice James Iredell, who was nominated to the Court by President Washington, wrote that “it is objected that the people of America may perhaps choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. . . . But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own.”

In 1837 a court opinion stated: “The distinction is a sound one between a religion preferred by law, and a religion preferred by the people without the coercion of law—between a legal establishment which the present constitution expressly forbids . . . and a religious creed freely chosen by the people for themselves.” In other words, although the Framers of the Constitution prohibited the federal government from applying any religious test, they left the voters completely free to do so.

For more information, go to Wallbuilders.

Coming up is a series on the Great Awakening!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

America's First War on Terror: The Halls of Tripoli

The United States’ policy of appeasement only succeeded in persuading the Barbary Powers that Americans were weak. They came to see American targets as especially attractive, and attacks against the American ships increased dramatically. By the time Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, he concluded that there were only three solutions: continue to acquiesce to the Barbary Powers’ extortion, restrict American ships to American waters, or go to war. Once inaugurated, he cut off tribute payments to the Barbary nations.

In response Tripoli declared war against the United States. Jefferson appointed General William Eaton to lead an American military expedition against the four terrorist nations. Faced with the new United States Navy and a large contingent of American Marines, all the Barbary Powers except Tripoli backed down. In 1805, after four years of fighting, Eaton succeeded in crushing the terrorist forces and freeing the captured seamen. Tripoli surrendered on America’s terms, and our troops returned home.

The region remained quiet for only a short time. In 1807 Muslim Algiers once more began attacking American ships and sailors. Preoccupied with a looming war with both Great Britain and France, Jefferson was unable to respond. When James Madison took office, the crisis that led to the War of 1812 made it impossible for him to spare naval forces to oppose terrorist attacks in the Mediterranean.

When the war with the British ended in 1815, however, Madison quickly dispatched warships commanded by Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge against Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Algiers was forced to the peace table in July 1815, where they ratified a treaty freeing all enslaved Christians and putting an end to this despicable practice. No sooner had the American fleet sailed for Tunis, however, than Algiers renounced the treaty. In short order the fleets of Great Britain and the Netherlands persuaded that country to sign a new peace treaty, which was ratified in December 1816. After thirty-two years of conflict and six years of armed warfare, attacks by Muslim terrorists against the United States and other Christian nations at last dwindled.

Throughout the conflict, Muslims viewed their terrorist actions as a holy war against Christians. In contrast, numerous treaties with the Barbary Pirates stated that the United States held no “enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility” of the Muslims, and that even substantial differences of religious opinion would not “produce an interruption of the harmony between the two nations” on America’s part. The United States did not fight a religious war against Muslims, but rather to end the terrorism of the Muslim states against America.

For further information, go to Wallbuilders and Pirates and Privateers.

Coming next: America's First War Against Terror: Muslims in Government